Sacred and Ancient Celtic Sites
Four of the original six sarsen slabs mark the south end of the barrow
Wayland's Smithy, beautifully situated in a clump of beech trees, is one of the finest chambered long barrows in Britain. Excavations in 1962-63 proved that it had been built in two different periods, around 3700 and 3400 BC. In the first period a wooden mortuary chamber was constructed, where fourteen articulated and disarticulated bodies have been found. Then the burial chamber was surrounded by some sarsen boulders and it was covered with a mound of chalk taken from two flanking ditches. These first mound and ditches are not visible now, covered by the following long barrow.
In the second period a trapezoidal chalk mound was built, measuring 60m (196ft) in length and from 6 to 15m (19 to 50ft) in width. The chalk was held in place by a kerb of stones. At the south end of this barrow, there were once six large slabs. Now only four of them survive: they are 3m (10ft) high and they flank the entrance of a cruciform tomb formed by a passage 6.6m (21ft) long with one chamber at either side. The passage is 1.8m (6ft) and the chambers 1.3m (4ft) high. In earlier excavations in 1919, eight skeletons, one of a child, were found in the long barrow.
Wayland's Smithy got its name some four thousand years later its construction, when Saxon settlers came across the tomb. Not knowing who had built it, they imagined it was the work of one of their gods, Wayland the Smith. Later, a legend grew that Wayland would re-shoe any passing traveller's horse left along with a silver penny beside the tomb.
Wayland's Smithy, located in Oxfordshire, is one of many prehistoric sites associated with Wayland, the God of blacksmithing. According to legend, a traveller whose horse had lost a shoe could leave his horse and some money of the capstone of the tomb and return the next morning to find the horse shod and the money gone. It is thought that the invisible Smithy may have been linked to this site for many centuries before the Saxons recognized him as Wayland. The Ancient Britons may have been accustomed to offer money here, perhaps as a votive offering to the local God.
You can actually drive up that unmarked road, park on top of the Ridgeway, and have to walk only about quarter of a mile to Waylands. Just as you can drive to the car park on top of White Horse Hill. But under no circumstances try to drive across the farm track on top of the Ridgeway!
All pictures in books show the complete horse, (see below); this is the most complete view possible from the ground. It is this which leads some people to speculate that the horse was never meant to be seen in its entirety, or that it was meant to be viewed from the air
The Ridgeway is one of Britain's most ancient roads. As its name suggests, it differs from most modern roads in that it runs along a ridge of hills. Originally it would probably have been used for driving sheep, and so on; above the surrounding land for much of the way, it avoided the dangerous forests below. The Ridgeway has been in continuous use for as long as anyone knows. You can walk along it and indeed camp on it -- which I did when I was a teenager.
On or near the Ridgeway are numerous prehistoric sites. The highest concentration is around Uffington, with Uffington White Horse, Uffington Castle, and Wayland's Smithy
Uffington White Horse is about three thousand years old, making it by far the oldest of Britain's chalk hill figures as well as the most beautiful and -- since it can only be viewed properly from a helicopter -- mysterious.
The other chalk horses are mostly about two hundred years old and some are a lot newer. Of the older hill figures, the Cerne Giant is particularly remarkable. (Sensitive young ladies should not take that link.)
The horse was made by digging trenches and filling these with chalk. Older photographs show the horse with slightly narrower or fatter lines, but the positions of these lines has not been changed.
The horse needs and gets regular maintenance. If you visit it, please don't walk on it or closer to it than the fences permit.
The Manger is naturally made, by glacier erosion during the last ice age. However, the terrace on one side is the result of intensive plowing during medieval times (before the Black Death). Its name derives from the belief that the White Horse comes here to feed at night.
Dragon Hill, so improbably symmetrical as to suggest some rich Englishman attempted a folly re-creation of Mt Fuji, is thought to be a natural chalk outcrop shaped by man. St George is said to have slain the dragon on top, and the seepage of the dragon's blood poisoned the earth and presented grass from growing at the top.
Uffington Castle hill fort (about three hectares) is around 2700 years old. It is an earthwork, surrounded by a wall, then a ditch, and then a lower wall. It originally had wooden fortifications; these were later replaced by stones (which also are long gone). In historical times the Castle has been used for fairs, sometimes in connection with the White Horse.
Wayland's Smithy is over a kilometre west of Uffington White Horse. The original mound dates back five thousand years, but in neolithic times the mound was enlarged and sarsen stones were placed in front. According to local legend, a horse left there overnight would be shod by Wayland.
Dragon Hill - and the white dragon blood.
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